Updated: Apr 9, 2018
We’ve all seen the tag-line that says an indie RPG is ‘just like the classics!’, but with 8-Bit Adventures 2 I really want to move beyond that. Will it surpass Chrono Trigger? Well, probably not. But will it have its own flavour while staying true to what’s come before? Absolutely. It’s a brand new JRPG, in a style that I and many others love. As I say in my own tagline “A Retro RPG That’s More Than a Throwback!”
And that’s where the inspirations come in! The reason I wanted to write about this is because when I make a game, it’s always a game that I want to play myself. So if you and I like similar things, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll like 8-Bit Adventures 2, as well! …At least, that’s my hope.With all that out of the way, let’s get started!
Genuinely my favourite game of all time, Chrono Trigger influences just about every aspect of my work (story, characters, battle abilities, enemy design, level design, writing NPCs - everything!). But the biggest lesson I've learned from it is about pacing. Trigger has a great variety of environments, and the story is expertly developed. But the way it’s paced – the way that no part of the game overstays its welcome and the story never loses focus on the main plot – is truly masterful.
And it’s quite difficult to pull off! Not only because removing things like grinding, fetch quests, and other filler means that the game is shorter (which can make it harder to sell), but also because it means the player needs to be constantly doing something worthwhile and interesting. Pacing is something I paid a lot of attention to in 8-Bit Adventures 1, and I think that’s a big part of the reason why players enjoyed it. I do believe I’ve managed to capture (at least, to some degree) the tight pacing of Chrono Trigger in 8-Bit Adventures 2, so I hope you’ll all agree when you play the game!
One other thing I should mention, believe it or not, is that the Robot party member wasn’t actually inspired by Chrono Trigger! I just thought it would be fun to have one of the robots from the first game’s Factory area join you in the second game; I didn’t think of Robo until much later – somehow. There is a Trial scene though! And that one’s intentional haha. Also, like Chrono Trigger, once the Final Dungeon becomes open to you, every character gets a unique side-quest (with a brand new dungeon) to conclude their story arc…and get an ultimate weapon, of course =)
I can’t imagine making a JRPG without having studied Final Fantasy I through X. The stories and characters in these games really form the basis of how I think about storytelling. IX is my favourite, personally, and I learned a lot from it about developing characters, the party dynamic, and weaving romance into the grander story and character arcs. And as for gameplay, the battle system in 8-Bit Adventures 2 is heavily built upon the foundations of Final Fantasy X – you can read more about that in my Battle System Overview article.
Honestly, though, there’s inspiration from every Final Fantasy weaved throughout the game – sometimes I don’t even realise its there! There’s a spoiler-y section of the game that I imagine most players will assume to be a homage to FFIV – but I didn’t think of that until a few days after I wrote my concept. So, uh, maybe you’ll find a few unintentional references in there! There are some genuine ones hidden away too, though.
Mother (Earthbound) Series
The original 8-Bit Adventures took a lot of inspiration from Earthbound on SNES, and its predecessor Earthbound Beginnings on NES. This manifested in several ways – right down to the player personally being involved in the final boss battle! While there’s still some of that DNA in 8-Bit Adventures 2, this game takes more inspiration from Mother 3 (my favourite of the trilogy!). Shigesato Itoi’s sense of humour really clicks with me, and you can see it seep through in some of the dialogue, as well as in many enemy designs and names (there are plenty of puns and lots of alliteration). For example:
Snow Maaaaan Gallivanting Gravestone Self-Obsessed Squid Kamikazbee
Mother 3 also had an interesting approach to creating powerful, moving moments as well. While I've learned from that, and 8-Bit Adventures 2 has its fair share of emotional moments, it's definitely not going to be a tear-jerker like Mother 3! *sniff* That game really puts you through the wringer...
Moving beyond games, one of my favourite TV shows as a kid was Samurai Jack. And re-watching it as an adult, you really appreciate the depth of the artistry and pacing of every shot; there's some incredible imagery on display. But the thing that always stuck with me was the choreography of the action scenes. The way I envision scenes in my head owes a lot to the work of Genndy Tartakovsky. Despite being very different mediums, both Samurai Jack and top down sprites are quite minimalist. You have to convey emotions and actions with very simple techniques, e.g. a movement of the eye in Samurai Jack, or the sudden turn of a character sprite in a 2D RPG. But it’s more than that; the pacing of scenes, when to use downtime or silence, developing subtle character growth, and the methods you can use to make moments impactful and ‘cool’ are all lessons I’ve been trying to apply when writing, designing, and choreographing cutscenes.
For any Samurai Jack fans out there, there’s actually a BIG reference to one of my favourite episodes. And I mean that in terms of the general plot set-up and boss fight; someone doesn’t start rapping the opening theme or anything =P Except here, that plot set-up is expanded to a much grander scale. ...Hopefully that’ll make sense when you play 8-Bit Adventures 2! ;)
The works of Akira Toriyama are a massive inspiration for me in general, but Dragon Ball (the manga) is definitely the big one. Like Samurai Jack, choreography and action are definitely a big part of its influence, but the most important thing I’ve learned from the series is related to characters. One of Toriyama’s strengths is understated character moments, sometimes only one panel in length. But they go a long way in adding depth to the characters and making them feel like real people. For example, there’s a moment on Namek where Bulma questions her romantic choices and wonders “Did I blow it…?”, which sows the seeds of her relationship with Vegeta later on. They're organically woven into scenes, without interrupting the pace of the story, and over time they really add up!
Similarly, there are lots of little character eccentricities. For example, the way Bulma always calls Goku ‘Son-kun’, or the way Gohan speaks incredibly politely while his father talks like a country bumpkin - in both cases because of their upbringings. Characters in 8-Bit Adventures 2 all have their own ways of speaking. Charlie grew up as an orphan on the streets, so his speech is pretty rough. Whereas Robot is more reserved and logical, but sometimes a bit too flowery. While Emma is naturally a bit shy, and was raised by her parents and Grandpa to be polite, so she’s friendly, but uncertain and a bit formal.
When you're working on a project that doesn't use actors to portray the characters, everything relies on written dialogue. So it's incredibly important to inject as much personality and life into every line as you can. One thing I do in addition to this is 'choreograph' my text. So sentences have natural pauses and appear on screen in a sequence, as if someone was actually speaking the lines. This gives dialogue a realistic flow and allows me to give certain words more impact!
Phew! That was more than I expected to write. Even though I wrote a lot, that’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of my inspirations. Dragon Quest, Wild Arms, Zelda, Persona 5, Legend of Legaia, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC Animated Universe, Legend of Dragoon, Paper Mario, Seiken Densetsu/Mana series, The Witcher, Kingdom Hearts – the list goes on and on!
As an aside, I do think it's really important as a creator to be playing a wide variety of games (both old and new), as well as engaging with other media. Finding the time to do that can be difficult, but it's amazing how many times I've had an idea that solved a problem while playing another game - not because I'm directly ripping off something in that game, but because the game's approach to something gave me a new perspective. And that's really what inspirations are; new perspectives that present different ways to meet challenges and tell stories.
Hopefully this article has given you some insight into the works that have influenced the development of 8-Bit Adventures 2. While I can’t promise that you’ll like the game if you enjoy all of the things I’ve listed above, you can at least see the types of media I enjoy and compare that to your own tastes. My desire is that if you enjoy story-driven, classic JRPGs, then you’ll really fall in love with 8-Bit Adventures 2. But time will tell - meanwhile, I've got a game to finish!
If you've enjoyed this article, please check back for future 8-Bit Adventures 2 announcements - including the release!